Bike to Work Day: Take Two

There I was again: suited up, helmet in hand, tennis shoes double knotted, messenger bag all packed to bike to the office, just as I had been nearly two weeks ago.  Only this time was different.  This time I had my new (to me) bike securely locked up in my living room (yes, I locked it up inside my locked apartment inside my locked building…remember what happened last time?) and after quickly adding some air to my tires, I was on my way.  I was actually biking to work!

The first 1/2 mile was great.  Because I like to head south to hit the Lakefront trail, I pedaled over to 55th Street with nary a care in the world.  Biking is easy!  But as soon as I hit Promontory Point and headed north it hit me: a 15mph headwind that’s more or less a fact of life when you’re near Lake Michigan.  I mean, that’s nothing, right?  15mph.  But for this girl – biking along the lake front for the first time in over a dozen years – it was tough going for most of the ride.  Small hills became mountains.  Seemingly every other cyclist passed me as if there was no wind at all.  There was even some gal wearing jeans and riding an old-school cruiser bike with an air of insouciance that practically screamed, “I could be going much faster, but I’m too cool for that.”  I think her bike had a banana seat and streamers, but I can’t be sure.  Hey, at least I was able to pass her.

A view from the South SideI purposely did not look at the clock before I left or along the way.  Even the mile markers were just approximations of distance traveled because I hadn’t paid attention to the mile marker at 55th Street (it’s 2.5 mile, if you’re riding north).  But it was better that way.  I wasn’t crunching numbers or frantically calculating how much longer I had to fight the wind.  In the brief moments I was able to coast down a hill or take respite as the path lead through a few of the wooded or more sheltered areas along the path, I was able to remember just how fun it is to bike the Lakefront.  Even on an atypical July morning like today, when the birds were scarce and the sunshine nonexistent.

Once upon a time I was in good enough shape (and had enough time on my hands) to rollerblade from Hyde Park to Grant Park.  This happened one year for Taste of Chicago and I remember it vividly because a friend of mine biked and I rollerbladed along with him. Then, after we’d enjoyed a few overpriced but delicious items of food, the heavens opened up and let forth a deluge.  He rode is bike back in the rain but I was relegated to a soggy seat on the 6 bus…in rollerblades.  Perhaps I should have planned ahead more.

But what a memorable adventure that was!  And I’m sure this morning’s ride will stick with me for a long time as well.  As I said in an earlier blog post, this a time of change for me – at least I hope it will be – and doing Ride for AIDS Chicago is just one step along the journey.

Okay, so back to this morning’s commute.  Wind burn: check.  Exhaustion: check.  Brief thought of exiting the Lakefront Trail at 47th Street and catching the 6 bus: check.  But those thoughts all disappeared as I hit Lake Shore Drive and realized my trip was almost over. Dare I say it… That went by rather fast.  As I rolled into the Millennium Park Bicycle Station I was actually feeling good.  No, make that feeling great.  There may have even been a little swagger to my step as I dismounted and headed to the locker room.  On my way out of the bike station I smiled at a guy locking up his bike and I’m pretty sure we were both thinking the same thing: how superior we are for having biked to work!  Amazing what a little exercise and endorphins will do for one’s ego.

My work day’s about half over now and although I sit in front of a computer for most of it, I don’t notice anything different.  No leg cramps, no back pain, no overwhelming need for a nap (well, no more so than most days).  I mean, it’s only 10 miles from my place to downtown, but it’s something, right?  And all that wind is surely a good training exercise.  I still have a long way to go before the 13th, but I’m biking back home tonight, biking to the north side on Friday, then doing a 40 mile ride on Saturday morning.  Get excited!  And I’ll continue to repeat the mantra that I said to myself this morning when yet another gust of wind rushed toward me: It’s okay, Em.  You got this.

I’m riding 200 miles in support of About Face Theatre and other amazing community organizations in this summer’s Ride For AIDS Chicago.  If you’d like to donate, please visit my fundraising page.  Thank you for your support!

Yep, my bike was stolen

So what had happened was…I decided to bike to work today as part of the aptly named Bike to Work Week.  I woke up this morning already anticipating the rapturous blog I’d write about my beautiful ride up the lakefront.  I was going to share a photo with you of the Chicago skyline as viewed from the South Side.  I was going to pat myself on the back for completing another training milestone as I prepare for Ride for AIDS Chicago. I was hoping for the cycling equivalent of a “runner’s high” to spirit me through the long day that lay ahead of me. I was, as my sister might say, totes excited about biking to work.

Let me paint a picture for you.  I was decked out in what passes for “serious” riding gear for me (so what if my spandex capris are from Old Navy?) and on my way over to the secure bike room in the other building of my apartment complex to air up my tires.  Then an all-too-familiar scenario unfolded: as I approached the bike room door, I noticed it wasn’t fully closed.  And when I went to put my key in the lock, the door freely swung open.  I looked over to where my bike is usually locked and saw only my Kryptonite cable lock, dangling pathetically with the 1/2″ cable cut clean through. It was basically just like this:

Le sign. It happened. Again.

I calmly walked back to my apartment and dialed 911.  The dispatcher put me through to the non-emergency line and a friendly and sympathetic officer walked me through the police report process, a process I’m all too familiar with.  I provided as many details as a I could, staying calm and even cracking jokes.  Just like I had the first time my bike was stolen and an officer came over to my apartment to file the report (those were the days before 311 or widespread computer use).  Just like I had when – a month after the stolen bike incident – I was mugged at gunpoint and flagged down a cop car in the next intersection over and filed a police report and looked at books of mugshots and went to a line-up at the local precinct.  Just like I had when – several years later – the door to my apartment was kicked in and all of my electronics were stolen and the forensics team dusted for fingerprints and the cops left me with a broken front door that I had to repair myself.  It’s fine.  These things happen and we take care of them and we move on.

But the thing that riled me this time was that my bike was locked to the wall in what was supposed to be a locked bike room, which was in a locked building.  Turns out the bike room had been broken into several days ago, but nobody had notified the tenants, save for a single sheet of paper taped to the back of the door by someone who doesn’t even work on site.  Again, I calmly picked up the phone and called the 24-hour maintenance hotline to report that the door was still broken and, yes, mine was one of the stolen bikes and, yes, it would have been nice to have been informed of a break-in when it actually happened and not to have stumbled upon a broken lock when I was ready to ride into work for the first time since I moved here.  The guy on the phone and the woman who works in the on-site office were extremely apologetic and neither of them knew the door had been pried open (or even about the theft!), so at least that’s getting fixed today.

I hung up and threw myself a pity party for approximately 45 seconds.  Then I got over it.  Procuring a new bike would be easy: Blackstone Bicycle Works is in my neighborhood and everybody raves about how great they are, plus their refurbished bikes start at around $100, which is great.  I have renter’s insurance, which might help me recover some of the costs of the stolen bike, which wasn’t even an expensive bike to begin with.  And nobody (as far as I know) was hurt when the crime was perpetrated.  So, not that bad.

Em Hall Ride for AIDS ChicagoPLUS, I had to remind myself why I was even biking to work in the first place, and that’s to train for Ride for AIDS Chicago 2013.  As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I’m doing the ride for a number of reasons – not all of them are altruistic (I’ve already lost 5 pounds!) – but foremost is to raise money for About Face Theatre (where I’m the Marketing Manager) and TPAN, two amazing Chicago nonprofits that are doing important work for this city and beyond.  As the name of the ride implies, a portion of the funds raised will go directly to people living with HIV and AIDS in the Chicago-area, a reality that affects us all, whether we realize it or not.  And the statistics are shocking: 35% of gay black men in Chicago are HIV positive and the HIV infection rate for heterosexual black women in DC’s poorest neighborhoods has doubled since 2010.  In the UK, heterosexual women over 50 make up the fastest-growing group of those living with HIV.  And Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for an astonishing 70 percent of all AIDS deaths in 2011.  So yeah, a stolen bike is definitely something I can deal with – gotta keep some perspective.

This doesn’t mean I’m not disappointed in whoever took these bikes and whatever it was that drove them to steal them. This doesn’t mean that I’m not disappointed in myself for not springing for the U-lock that I know I should have gotten a long time ago.  But I’ll get it over it.  I’ll move on.  And then I’ll hop on my new bike and start pedaling away, training for my ride and looking forward to the day when biking to work becomes a regular occurrence.

I’m riding 200 miles in support of About Face Theatre and other amazing community organizations in this summer’s Ride For AIDS Chicago.  If you’d like to donate, please visit my fundraising page.  Thank you for your support!

Saddle Up!

Okay, so the original idea I had for the new was a blog devoted to work, because at the time I fired it up, I was in the middle of a job hunt and was – for the first time in my adult life – staring in the face of involuntary unemployment.  I had a couple of small side projects going on, but nothing that would count as full- or even part-time “work.”  And that was terrifying.

Fast forward a few months and now I have two 25-hour-a-week jobs, plus an additional side project!  Some days I think I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, but for the most part it’s exhilarating to get paid to do things like market a theatre or communicate about public housing.  And I get to work with so many smart, funny, wildly talented people that it’s unbelievable.  I learn new stuff every day and I am challenging myself professionally in new ways that I haven’t experienced in years.  In short, work life is good.

But one thing I have not been doing is challenging myself personally, either mentally or physically.  I’ve slipped into old patterns of too much couch time and too little fresh air, which is ridiculous because I live blocks from one of the most beautiful lake fronts in the world.  Plus I don’t have cable anymore so that’s not even an excuse!

I had to find something radical to snap me out of my pattern of behavior and jump start a goal I’ve had for years, which is to lose a significant amount of weight and get myself to a place of good health.  Like, no more late night pizza, no more going days without eating a fresh vegetable, and no more instances of getting winded by sprinting up the steps to catch a train.  No more.

presta valveSo I found something to kick my lazy rear into gear: Ride for AIDS Chicago.  I know what you’re thinking: Em Hall is neither an AIDS activist nor a cyclist.  Tawk amongst yourselves.  But seriously, what am I thinking?  Well, I’m thinking a couple of things.  I get to raise money for an organization that I’ve fallen madly in love with – About Face Theatre – and I get to spend time doing something that’s good for my health in so many ways.

My biggest fear isn’t that I won’t complete the ride (because I will) or that I’ll injure myself (because I won’t).  No, my biggest fear is that I won’t know how to live with my new self, a self that eats a healthy balanced diet and craves exercise.  A self with a mind that’s sharp as a tack during the day and quieted during the night.  A self that’s better to those around her because she’s better to herself.  So yeah, that’s the scary part.  Becoming a better version of myself.  Because let’s be honest: it’s far easier to stick with bad habits and tell yourself that tomorrow is the day you’ll change.  But today is the day I’m changing!

I hope you’ll follow along on my journey.  If you want to donate to support my ride, that’s fantastic (and I thank you in advance!) but really I just want you to join me as I work to be that better self that I know I can be.  I’m going to need all the support I can get.  And I’m already learning new stuff, like the fact that my road bike as Presta valves (that’s an example above) and that I need an adapter to air the tires (the Chicago Bike Blog tells you how).  That should tell you how often I’ve ridden that bike!

Okay, that’s enough to get this thing started.  Look for lots more content from me moving forward.  It’s great to have you along for the ride…

I’m riding 200 miles in support of About Face Theatre and other amazing community organizations in this summer’s Ride For AIDS Chicago.  If you’d like to donate, please visit my fundraising page.  Thank you for your support!